WASHINGTON — Project Convergence this year will grow in scope and scale to examine more deeply how the joint force and international partners can conduct fully connected combined operations.
Another new element to the U.S. Army’s annual experimentation event is a “gateway” where industry can test emerging technology in a operational environment.
The service had a wide variety of industry partners “knocking on our door to get in” to Project Convergence in 2021, Brig. Gen. Guy Jones, who leads the Army’s Futures and Concepts Center, told Defense News in an interview ahead of the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference.
The main portion of Project Convergence kicks off in October and continues into November.
In its third year, Project Convergence will focus on both the Indo-Pacific and European theaters while figuring out ways to fight with capabilities at a larger scale. The experimental event grew from an Army exercise in the desert of Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona, in 2020 to a joint evaluation in 2021; this year, it will incorporate international partners the United Kingdom and Australia.
In many cases last year, industry showed up with new technology too close to the start of the experimentation process, so the Army has partnered with industry and created the “Gateway” experimentation event, Jones said. Participation in the Gateway’s first year is high, with roughly 50 different technologies undergoing assessments in theater-agnostic scenarios.
The Army will provide participating industry with a separate network to plug into, and the event will take place at Yuma Proving Ground during Project Convergence, Jones noted.
“The intent is for industry partners, who have understood and been briefed on some of our challenges that we may have, [to] bring some of the developments and things they’ve been working on,” which would then fully join the next Project Convergence or subsequent versions if successful, Jones said.
“This is how we’re going to continue to generate new and innovative ideas into the overall campaign of learning.”
What else is new this year?
In joint warfighting, one service is often chosen as the lead on a mission while other services are called in as support, Jones noted.
“When we really start looking at [multidomain operations], what everybody has come to realize is that to defeat a near-peer or a peer threat, we can’t do that any longer,” he said. “We have to be able to integrate the Air Force’s aircraft, the Army’s deep sensing and the Navy’s Aegis ships, all collectively against one single objective.”
Project Convergence 22 will attempt to conduct “combined arms as a combined service,” integrating multiple capabilities at a single objective, he added.
Key to enabling this is a joint network focused on integrating sensors, processors, command nodes and effectors in a chain. “We don’t have that today,” Jones said.
It currently takes 10-15 days for the U.S. and its partners to integrate networks ahead of an exercise, Jones said. The U.S. military wants to be able to integrate networks within four to six hours. “I would still think that’s several years away.”
Project Convergence this year has six learning objectives, Jones said. The first is to establish an integrated air and missile defense network. The second is to employ combined arms fires to penetrate and defeat enemy assets in enemy-controlled territory.
The third is to conduct combined joint operations to achieve a position of “relative advantage,” Jones said, which can involve several approaches, such as gaining a physical position, achieving a psychological effect or deceiving an enemy.
The fourth goal is to inform a realistic “Mission Partner Environment” network, which brings together disparate networks of allies and partners that can’t normally communicate, “because we know that we have to fight with partners at every turn,” Jones said.
The fifth objective is for the joint force to sustain itself, “so we try to integrate how do we do that in both a distributed manner and a contested manner,” he said.
The final objective is to identify the authorities and policies that prevent the U.S. armed services from operating together — an important goal, Jones said, because “we’ve made policy decisions under an environment that didn’t envision this joint combined arms application of our capabilities.”
For example, he added, ”to establish the network that we’re getting ready to do, we have nine interservice agreements just to even connect the overarching architecture. I’m not saying pass data, I’m saying the architecture. That’s crazy.”
Project Convergence 22 will take place at some new locations to better reflect distances the joint force would encounter in the Indo-Pacific area of operations. The regional scenario will tie together Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton and San Clemente Island in California, as well as a location in Hawaii.
A European theater scenario will play out at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin and the Navy’s electronic warfare range at China Lake — both in California.
Tech headed to the test
Jones said there are more than 200 different technologies undergoing assessments for this year’s event. And he’s reviewing at least 24 different technologies to determine if any existing programs should be adjusted, if requirements should be solidified or if the technology should be divested because it won’t work.
Among the sensors the Army is incorporating into the experiment is the High Altitude Detection and Exploitation System, or HADES. The sensor is currently aboard a manned aircraft, “but that’s probably not where it’ll stay,” Jones said. It will perform some target acquisition and electronic warfare effects.
The service is also using an unnamed system that conducts so-called deep sensing; space sensors will also play a role. However, Jones declined to name the participating systems. A next-generation synthetic aperture radar — a commercial product — will help differentiate threats on the ground.
To process data from sensors, the Army will use a replica of the TITAN ground station — or Tactical Intel Targeting Assessment Node — which is still under development. TITAN ingests data and turns it into actionable information.
The target-pairing system Firestorm will also return for this year’s event, as will SHOT — the Synchronized High Op-tempo Targeting system — which helps generate targeting messages to send out via a command-and-control node.
C2 nodes coming to Project Convergence 22 include the Integrated Battle Command System, which connects sensors and shooters on the battlefield and plays a central role in integrated air and missile defense. Also attending is a solar glider to create an aerial tier network relay for digital messaging.
The Army is bringing back the tactical data fabric, still under development, called Rainmaker. This year, it will combine with LEAP, or Lower Echelon Analytic Platform, which will help move processed data from one node to another to get it to an effector, Jones said.
Effectors in play at the event will include Army Special Operations Command’s Hero-120 loitering precision munition as well as a replica version of the service’s Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon system, still in development.
Robotic combat vehicles will also return as well as several electronic warfare platforms, including the Terrestrial Layer System.
The Army is using a light support vessel — an Army watercraft meant to simulate the future Maneuver Support Vessel (Light), which is not yet built — to assess sustainment capabilities in a Pacific scenario.
And an electric Joint Light Tactical Vehicle will participate in the experiment to help evaluate the Army’s climate strategy goals.
This year’s Project Convergence will also evaluate a new technology for medics in the field called BATDOK — or Battlefield Assisted Trauma Distributed Observation Kit. It’s an app that allows medics to deal with trauma cases before they reach a doctor or surgeon.
A medic can plug in vitals and injury statistics, and the system will generate step-by-step procedures to follow. The app will also track the care already administered so surgeons and doctors are prepared to pick up where care left off in the field.
Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.